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Chris MIller, the acting Secretary of Defense, has ordered the Pentagon to halt President-elect Joe Biden’s transition briefings.
The start of the transition was delayed by election disputes, limiting the time to complete necessary tasks. Pentagon officials, some of which are new, also have other responsibilities outside of the transition. A defense official disputed parts of the Axios report, explaining that the Pentagon and the Biden transition team agreed to a break and that the canceled transition meetings are being rescheduled for after the holidays. The Biden transition team, however, presented a different version of events, saying that the “abrupt halt” to transition meetings was concerning, that they had encountered resistance in the Pentagon, and that they did not agree to a break.
Meetings originally scheduled for Friday were suddenly canceled, Axios first reported, writing that the order went out to the department Thursday night. A defense official said the meetings were canceled due to competing priorities and are expected to be rescheduled for after a two-week hiatus agreed to by both sides. The official added that while meetings are being canceled and rescheduled for later, other transition activities are continuing uninterrupted. A Biden transition spokesperson disputed the Pentagon’s version of events at a press briefing Friday afternoon, stating that the broader transition process had run into “isolated resistance,” including from political appointees at the Department of Defense, and that the transition team was “concerned” by the “abrupt halt” to the transition meetings. The team also said that there was no mutual agreement to take a break from the transition process (Politicus USA).
It is unclear if President Trump approved of Miller’s directive. Miller was appointed on November 9 after Trump fired former Defense Secretary Mark Esper. He has leveraged his position to make policy changes affecting the special operations community, according to a report last month, including his announcement that the United States would draw down its presence to 2,500 troops by January 15 in both Afghanistan and Iraq. President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign adviser Steve Cortes appeared to believe the move was related to recent reports about Hunter Biden and potential business dealings with the Chinese Communist Party. “Good! Joe Biden could not get even a low-level security clearance right now. He’s compromised by the Chinese Communist Party,” Cortes tweeted.
Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, citing a senior Pentagon official, reported that the reason for the transition meeting pause, which was reportedly ordered by acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, is that some of the Pentagon staff members involved in the transition feel “overwhelmed.” Jonathan Swan stood by Axios’ report, adding, “Contrary to this Pentagon spin, there was NOTHING routine about this decision. Senior Trump officials have been furious at the Biden team, privately blaming them for leaks, and this decision was discussed last night with the White House” (Daily Caller).
Washington Post reporter Dan Lamothe, reported that there have sometimes been as many as 20 meetings per day, even as officials dealt with other demands, and that some people had raised concerns. “We had fewer than two dozen remaining meetings on the schedule today and next week,” a Pentagon official told Axios, explaining that the department is “taking a knee” for a couple of weeks rather than having those meetings but is “still committed to a productive transition.”
The Pentagon official said that “the DoD staff working the meetings were overwhelmed by the number of meetings,” further stating that “these same senior leaders needed to do their day jobs and were being consumed by transition activities.” In a statement on the matter, Miller said Friday that since Nov. 23, the Department of Defense has conducted 139 interviews with 265 officials, responded to 161 requests for information, and provided 4,400 pages of controlled information and 900 pages of classified information in support of the transition.
The Trump administration delayed the start of the transition as the president disputed the results of the election, forcing officials in federal departments and agencies involved in the transition process to scramble to hold all of the necessary meetings before Biden officially takes office on January 20. At the Pentagon, another potential challenge is that some senior leaders are new, including the acting defense secretary and the the senior official tasked with leading the transition.
Shortly after the election, the Pentagon experienced a major upheaval as the secretary of defense and his chief of staff, as well as the top policy and intelligence officials, departed, leaving vacant posts for the Trump administration to fill with loyalists. Talking to Insider about the newcomers, a former Pentagon official said late last month that “the individuals being installed do not have the level of experience their predecessors did to assist with the transition.” The former official said that the transition process would potentially be “hampered because you will have new people that don’t have that experience.” In his statement on changes to the transition meetings, Miller said Friday that he is “committed to a full and transparent transition” because “this is what our nation expects and the DoD will deliver as it always has” (MSN).
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